Kremer's shutout shows 'hunger' in O's surging arms

Gem vs. AL-leading Astros follows dominant outings from Bradish, Lyles

September 24th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- ’s first shower was that of appreciation, bathed in Gatorade on the field after he carried the Orioles over the Astros, 6-0, at Camden Yards on Friday night with the first shutout of his career. His second was of begrudging acceptance back in the O’s clubhouse, where he was awarded a laundry cart shower of items he can’t begin to pick out. His third was of pure annoyance. Upon completing his media session, he was still picking said indescribable items out of his hair, lockermate Spenser Watkins combing with him through it.

“They were exceptionally angry,” Kremer said, “because I have good hair.”

Kremer should have been expecting it. It’s all become a postgame routine for Orioles starters at this point. Well, at least the first shower has.

Kremer’s shutout -- on an immaculate night against the best team in the American League -- was a Herculean effort amid a week full of them for the pitching staff. Two nights after Jordan Lyles threw his first complete game in 10 years, and one night after Kyle Bradish tossed 8 2/3 scoreless frames against the Astros, Kremer took the mantle with the first shutout of his career. Never before had he gone the distance.

“This is a special night,” said Kremer, now with a 3.07 ERA on the year after entering it with a 6.84 career mark across parts of two seasons. “This may not happen ever again in my career. This is a night to remember.”

The trio of gems resulted in Baltimore’s first three-game stretch of at least 8 2/3 innings from its starters since Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson and Kevin Brown each pitched a complete game on Sept. 26, 27 and 29, 1995.

This dominant stretch has come at the most crucial time. The Orioles (79-71) -- aided on Friday by a fourth-inning homer from Adley Rutschman and a five-run seventh -- find themselves just three games back of Seattle (82-68) for the third and final AL Wild Card spot. (They would, however, have to finish with better records than the Mariners and the Rays, because those teams own the head-to-head tiebreaker over them.)

“Maybe it's a little bit contagious,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Maybe Bradish saw what Jordan did, and Dean saw what Bradish and Jordan did and just wanted to keep it going.”

“Incentive? Yeah, it can give you a hunger,” Kremer said, “like, 'OK, it's possible.’”

Perhaps Kremer did, or perhaps he had his own (and Bradish’s) success against Houston to hone in on.

On Aug. 27, Kremer held the Astros listless through 7 2/3 innings, tagged for just one run on four hits in what was then the longest outing of his career. Then Friday night came and went, and the O’s biggest bounce-back candidate of the season had hit a high. It was only the second complete-game shutout accomplished by a Baltimore starter since Hyde took over as manager in 2019, joining John Means’ no-hitter a year ago.

In five games against Houston this year, Baltimore has conceded just four runs (an 0.82 ERA) and held the Astros’ lineup to a .381 OPS.

“A relaxed pitcher is a very dangerous pitcher," said Astros manager Dusty Baker. “They’ve been kind of in our heads the past couple games.”

“With these high-winning clubs, guys get tentative sometimes to try to pitch around guys and whatnot,” Kremer said. “The motto for us this year is we don't really care who's in the box -- just go after them.”

The Orioles entered this homestand with just two starts of at least eight innings under Hyde: Bradish’s own dominance over Houston on Aug. 26 and Means’ no-hitter. They’ve now received three such outings on three consecutive days: Lyles on Wednesday, Bradish on Thursday and Kremer on Friday.

“I don't think I've ever had anything quite like that,” said Rutschman, who’s caught two consecutive shutouts as part of the O’s 15 on the year. “That was just so much fun the last two days, it's just been a blast. … It definitely felt different. They always have that competitive edge to them, they're always coming out with their best stuff. But definitely a little bit different.”

It’s all coming up aces for Baltimore at a time when bodies ache more, stakes raise the pressure and the wind chill cranks up.

No matter. The Orioles’ pitching in this hypermicro stretch has been near-flawless. Their play against the AL’s best has been as loose as its been all year. They’re heating up at the right time.